Digital divides in education. An analysis of the Romanian public discourse on distance and online education during the COVID-19 pandemic


Alexandra Hosszu
Cosima Rughiniș


Adapting “face-to-face” education to distance/remote and/or online education in response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been a massive challenge for countries around the world. Online education reignited older debates about inclusive education, such as hoped-for universal access versus current digital divides, prompting the public to reflect about the past, the present, and future of the educational system. This article analyzes the Romanian public discourse, both scientific and non-scientific, on emerging distance and online education in Romania during the COVID-19 pandemic, in order to understand how public communication functioned as feedback for school digitalization. The paper charts the advantages and challenges of distance and online education experienced by various actors (teachers, students, and the members of civil society) or identified through scientific research, focusing on the way online education has spotlighted and reshaped social inequalities. We use thematic content analysis of 152 online articles published from March to June 2020 and eight scientific studies and reports. The results showed that public discourse about distance and online education was largely consistent within and across multiple stakeholders; also, the scientific reports were aligned with the other public opinions expressed and promoted via online channels. The general perspective of the emerging online education during COVID-19 is that it deepens the educational gaps and creates new forms of exclusion. On the positive side, some of the teachers have improved their teaching methods and educational content.


Author Biographies

Alexandra Hosszu, University of Bucharest

Address: 4-12 Regina Elisabeta Blvd., 030018, District 3, Bucharest, Romania.


Cosima Rughiniș, University of Bucharest

Address: 4-12 Regina Elisabeta Blvd., 030018, District 3, Bucharest, Romania.


How to Cite
Hosszu, A., & Rughiniș, C. (2020). Digital divides in education. An analysis of the Romanian public discourse on distance and online education during the COVID-19 pandemic. Sociologie Românească, 18(2), 11-39.


Basilaia, G., & Kvavadze, D. (2020). Transition to Online Education in Schools during a SARS-CoV-2 Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic in Georg. Pedagogical Research, 5(4).
Blank, G., & Dutton, W. H. (2014). Next Generation Internet Users: A New Digital Divide. In G. Blank, & W. H. Dutton, Society and the Internet: How Networks of Information and Communication are Changing Our Lives, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Botnariuc, P., Glava, C., Ilie, M. D., Labăr, A. V., Ștefănescu, D., Cucoș, C., . . . Velea, S. (2020). ȘCOALA ONLINE - ELEMENTE PENTRU INOVAREA EDUCAȚIEI, București: Universității din București.
Cezar, M., Grama, C., & Pârvu, S. (2020). Scoala virusata. Cum arata educatia online in Romania si Moldova in viziunea profesorilor.
Clement, J. (2020, April). Worldwide digital population as of April 2020. Retrieved June 30, 2020, from
Craig, R. (2020, April 2). What Students Are Doing Is Remote Learning, Not Online Learning. There’s a Difference. Retrieved June 25, 2020, from
Digital Nation. (2020). Profesor în Online. Retrieved from
Dreeseni, T., Akseer, S., Brossard, M., Dewan, P., Giraldo, J.-P., Kameii, A., . . . Ortiz, J. S. (2020). Promising practices for equitable remote learning. Emerging lessons from COVID-19 education responses in 127 countries. UNICEF - Innocenti Research Brief.
European Commission. (2015). 2nd Survey of Schools: ICT in Education. Objective 1: Benchmark progress in ICT in schools. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union.
European Commission. (2019). Education and Training. Monitoring report. Romania. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union.
European Commission. (2020). Digital Economy and Society Index 2019, Country Report Romania.
European Parliament. (2015). Bridging the digital divide in the EU. Retrieved June 25, 2020, from
Florian, B., & Toc, S. (2020). Policy note: Educația în timpul pandemiei. Răspunsuri la criza nesfârșită a sistemului educațional românesc, București.
Gilbert, B. (2015). Online Learning Revealing the Benefits and Challenges. Education Masters, Paper 303.
Guri-Rosenblit, S. (2005). ‘Distance education’ and ‘e-learning’: Not the same thing. Higher Education, 467-493.
Guzdian, M. (2020, March 30). So much to learn about emergency remote teaching, but so little to claim about online learning. Retrieved June 29, 2020, from
Holmberg, B. (1989). Theory and practice of distance education. London: Routledge.
Hotnews. (2020, March 9). Coronavirus: Școlile și grădinițele se închid în perioada 11-22 martie / Nu s-a decis cum se recuperează cursurile / Se analizează varianta de cursuri online / Ce se întâmplă cu simulările. Retrieved from
Hotnews. (2020, March 30). Monica Anisie, scrisoare către profesori: În privința examenelor naționale, vom prezenta public variantele la care lucrează specialiștii. Retrieved from
IRES. (2020). Școala în stare de urgență. Accesul copiilor școlari din România la educația online.
Kitchen, H., Fordham, E., & Henderson, K. (2017). Romania 2017, OECD Reviews of Evaluation and Assessment in Education. Paris: OECD Publishing.
Lee, K.-T. (2006). Online learning in primary schools: designing for school culture change. Educational Media International, 91-106.
Lupač, P. (2018). Beyond the digital divide: Contextualizing the information society. Bradford: Emerald Publishing.
Maher, D. (2014). Online learning in primary schools. In P. Lowenthal, C. York, & J. Richardson, Online Learning: Common Misconceptions, Benefits, and Challenges. Hauppauge: Nova Science Publishing
Markus, D. G. (2020). Is the online learning good in the midst of Covid-19 Pandemic? The case of EFL learners. Jurnal Sinestesia, 10(1).
Ministry of Education. (2020, April 21). Ordin de aprobare a Instructiunii privind asigurarea continuitatii procesului de invatare la nivelul sistemului de invatamant preuniversitar.
Ministry of Education. (2020, May 13). ORDER no. 4249.
Mojib, I. (2020, March 15). MoE trains 42,000 teachers in distance learning. Retrieved June 30, 2020, from
Nguyen, T. (2015). The Effectiveness of Online Learning:. MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 309-319.
OECD. (2001). Understanding the digital divide. Paris: OECD Publications.
OECD. (2020). Teaching in Focus #32: How prepared are teachers and schools to face the changes to learning caused by the coronavirus pandemic? Paris: OECD Publishing.
Rovai, A. P., Wighting, M. J., & Liu, J. (2005). School climate: Sense of Classroom and School Communities in Online and On-Campus Higher Education Courses. The Quarterly Review of Distance Education, 361–374.
Școala pe net. (2020). Școala pe net - o platformă pentru profesori. Retrieved from
Stauffer, B. (2020, April 2). What’s the Difference Between Online Learning and Distance Learning. Retrieved June 25, 2020, from
Sun, A., & Chen, X. (2016). Online Education and Its Effective Practice: A Research Review. Journal of Information Technology Education: Research, 157-190.
UNESCO. (2020, March 24). 1.37 billion students now home as COVID-19 school closures expand, ministers scale up multimedia approaches to ensure learning continuity. Retrieved June 29, 2020, from
UNESCO. (2020). Education: From disruption to recovery. Retrieved from
UNESCO. (2020). Global Education Monitoring Report 2020: Inclusion and education: All means all. Paris: UNESCO.
Zimmerman, J. (2020, March 10). Coronavirus and the Great Online-Learning Experiment. Retrieved June 29, 2020, from